Khazâd Part IV: The Road Goes On

This post is the end of a series. Find the earlier installments here:
Of the Free Peoples of Arda
Khazâd Part I: Aulë
Khazâd Part II: The Deep Places of the World
Khazâd Part III: Creation

I’ve tried to wrangle this post down to something (possibly) reasonable. I hope you have enjoyed the series and that the Khazâd, if they haven’t before, now spark your curiosity and imagination.

Stereotypes, pernicious over-simplifications based on seeds of truth covered with lies, are as pervasive in our literary worlds as they are in the world we inhabit. I will spare you a full rant, but one of my objects in life is to smash the boxes we form around each-other that prevent us from truly seeing our fellows. If I could do it with an axe, I would. Baruk Khazâd! Khazâd ai-mênu!

The more time J. R. R. Tolkien spends with a character or a race, the more stereotypes fade. It is ironic that numerous clichés have arisen from the reading and subsequent glossing-over of his work.  It makes me wonder how many people actually read him. My intent is to highlight often-overlooked aspects of Tolkien’s Dwarves and break down some of the popular clichés. However, there is always a danger of creating new ones, and that is just as bad. I dislike even “positive” stereotypes because they insulate us from seeing.

Therefore, assume Tolkien wrote exceptions to everything I say about the Khazâd. They are not all alike.

In many “fantasy” books, films, and games, Dwarves are either comic relief; gruff, warlike side-characters; or else the “Big Guy” of the story.  Because the clichés have roots in Tolkien, some assume that Tolkien wrote according to these pop-culture images. His Khazâd are not pretty or dashing enough to garner much attention, and so their subtle complexity is overlooked. In contrast, his equally-complex Elves have gotten so much attention that many people are sick of them, which is also sad.

The seeds at the heart of “Tolkienesque”  Dwarves can be found in Tolkien’s work. He, however, does not take the acorn for the oak, and neither should we.

The Khazâd, like all of Tolkien’s races, have their cultural weaknesses. I share many of these, which adds sympathy to my other reasons for loving them. Excessive pride is probably the cause of their worst moments (Thorin, anyone?). This is not surprising for a people whom the elves call “Naugrim,” meaning “Stunted People,” and who face attitudes such as this:

…Caranthir was haughty and scarce concealed his scorn for the unloveliness of the Naugrim, and his people followed their lord. Quenta Silmarilion, Chapter 13

While the scorn of others doesn’t excuse pride, it helps explain the defensiveness of many Dwarves. They are also stubborn. The Silmarillion states that Aulë made them stubborn in defiance of the Enemy. It stands them in good stead, but it also gets between them and those who would be their friends were they more yielding.

…they were made…  to resist most steadfastly any domination. Though they could be slain or broken, they could not be reduced to shadows enslaved to another will… All the more did Sauron hate… and desire to dispossess them.” -Appendix A

Though it was sometimes destructive in other ways, I love that the stubborn nature of the Dwarves kept them from coming under the dominion of Sauron.

The greedy Dwarf is a stereotype all it’s own, isn’t it? Perhaps Tolkien understood that fierce love of the beauty of the world, though good in its way, leaves the heart vulnerable. I certainly find it so in myself.  It is a difficult balance to love without coveting; to be in the world and not of it. Like the Dwarves, sometimes I succeed and sometimes I fail. But I am very fond of this quote of Galadriel’s from The Fellowship of the Ring:

Let none say again that Dwarves are grasping and ungracious!

There is evidence throughout Tolkien’s scribbles that Dwarves are not as greedy as they are painted by the other races. For the sake of length, I will have to let you find it on your own.

The Khazâd are secretive. They do not teach their language to others and their true names are never written or told to outsiders. That’s right, we only have nicknames for the Dwarves! It may not help their relationships outside their own people, but I find the secretive aspect of Dwarven society mysterious. I like a little mystery.

Like their weaknesses, the strengths of the Dwarves are usually blown out of proportion or, if they do not fit cleanly into the clichés, forgotten. Loyalty is common in stock-fantasy Dwarves, but it is also very present in Tolkien’s representation. This resonates deeply with me. I believe friendship should be fast (in the archaic sense) and enduring. Love and promises should bind. The Khazâd, in general, seem to agree with me. This, however, ties in with an aspect of Dwarves often completely ignored: romantic love.

Because they are not beautiful, Dwarves in love seems off-putting to many. Even Tolkien says little on the subject. According to the Appendix A, only about a third of Dwarves are women (how are they not extinct?). Not all Dwarf women desire marriage, and neither do all Dwarf men (which is good, given the discrepancy in numbers!). But when they do marry, they take only one wife or husband in a lifetime. It is said that often a Dwarf woman, on failing to win the heart she desires, “will have no other.” I expect the same is true for Dwarf men. This suggests that when they do love it is with a passion similar to their craftsmanship: a powerful, single-minded, and loyal love.

The Khazâd are passionate beneath the surface. Cliché Dwarves seem to have three settings: wrathful, dour or rollicking. Tolkien’s writing gives a more balanced picture. His Dwarves show a full emotional range expressed in subtle, sometimes elegant, ways. Elegant Dwarves!

Far from the stereotypical “angry Dwarf shout of grief and rage!” that we get in the films, this is Gimli’s reaction on finding Balin’s tomb in Moria:

Gimli cast his hood over his face.

And when time came to escape:

Gimli had to be dragged away by Legolas: in spite of the peril he lingered by Balin’s tomb with his head bowed.

He breaks my heart, then gives it back to me whole and makes me smile:

“Dark is the water of Kheled-zâram… and cold are the springs of Kibil-nâla. My heart trembles at the thought that I may see them soon.” – The Fellowship of the Ring 

I will not quote his interactions with Galadriel, but any who have read the books will know them.

As I have said in earlier posts, the Dwarves have a passion for beauty and for craftsmanship. They are creative as well as industrious. This is a people who hang “flowering stars” on silver necklaces, create “metal wrought like fishes’ mail,” carve stone halls like beech forests, and treasure natural beauty deeply. The pop-culture ideas of elf-craft are probably closer to Tolkien’s idea of Dwarven works than the chunky and rigid images we always see. Not that there isn’t a place for stereotypical Dwarf-architecture. I like that too.

Tolkien and the clichés seem to agree that the Dwarves are strong. Tolkien’s Dwarves, at their best, have not only physical power and toughness, but deep roots to weather storms.

Last of all the eastern force to stand firm were the Dwarves of Belegost… And but for them Glaurung and his brood would have withered all that was left of the Noldor. But the Naugrim made a circle about him when he assailed them, and even his mighty armour was not full proof against the blows of their great axes; and when in his rage Glaurung turned and struck down Azaghâl, Lord of Belegost, and crawled over him, with his last stroke Azaghâl drove a knife into his belly, and so wounded him that he fled the field, and the beasts of Angband in dismay followed after him. Then the Dwarves raised up the body of Azaghâl and bore it away; and with slow steps they walked behind singing a dirge in deep voices, as it were a funeral pomp in their country, and gave no heed more to their foes; and none dared to stay them. ” Quenta Silmarilion, Chapter 20

Wisdom is more associated with the Elves in Tolkien’s tales, but I think the Dwarves have their share. Here is what the surviving Dwarves have to say to Thráin when, after the battle against the orcs of Moria, he claims victory and wishes to reclaim Khazâd-dûm.

Durin’s Heir you may be, but even with one eye you should see clearer. We fought this war for vengeance, and vengeance we have taken. But it is not sweet. If this is victory, then our hands are too small to hold it. -Appendix A

That does not sound like the impulsive behavior so often portrayed in Dwarf stereotypes. I am tired of Dwarves being fools. Gimli, in Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” films, shows less than half the intelligence and wisdom of the same character from the books. But the Khazâd are an intelligent race:

…the Dwarves were swift to learn, and indeed were more willing to learn the Elven-tongue than to teach their own to those of alien race. – Quenta Silmarilion, Chapter 10

Apart from some of the silliness in The Hobbit, I do not recall Dwarves doing stupid things, or having sub-par intelligence.

Thankfully, (for I dearly love to laugh) the Dwarves have their humor and joy as well. Thorin is probably the most “serious” Dwarf we meet (unless one counts Mîm), and the rest like to joke and laugh when they can. The plate-breaking song in the beginning of The Hobbit is an excellent example. There is a difference, though, between having a gift for humor and being comic relief.

Music and song are mentioned repeatedly in relation to the Khazâd. And this from a people in exile whose story, like that of Arda itself, is one of devastating loss and victories that come at great cost. But the Dwarves are resilient, using their outward toughness to protect the gems beneath. Gimli makes me cry and laugh, and his whole race makes me smile.

And finally, I give you an amateur reading of Gimli’s chant within Moria: My favorite of the verses in The Lord of the Rings.

About jubilare

Just another tree in the proverbial forest. Look! I have leaves! View all posts by jubilare

21 responses to “Khazâd Part IV: The Road Goes On

  • Of the Free Peoples of Arda « jubilare

    […] The rest of this series can be found here:Of the Free Peoples of Arda Contrariwise Khazâd Part I: Aulë Khazâd Part II: The Deep Places of the World Khazâd Part III: Creation Khazâd Part IV: The Road Goes On […]

  • Contrariwise « jubilare

    […] and biases that laid a foundation. Now that my slant is in the open, I will move forward and show why I now love the Dwarves apart from any comparison with other races from their mythos, or from their author’s opinions […]

  • Khazâd Part I: Aulë « jubilare

    […] For the rest of the series, look here: Of the Free Peoples of Arda Contrariwise Khazâd Part II: The Deep Places of the World Khazâd Part III: Creation Khazâd Part IV: The Road Goes On […]

  • Khazâd Part II: The Deep Places of the World « jubilare

    […] For the rest of the series, look here: Of the Free Peoples of Arda Contrariwise Khazâd Part I: Aulë Khazâd Part III: Creation Khazâd Part IV: The Road Goes On […]

  • Khazâd Part III: Creation « jubilare

    […] For the rest of the series, look here: Of the Free Peoples of Arda Contrariwise Khazâd Part I: Aulë Khazâd Part II: The Deep Places of the World Khazâd Part IV: The Road Goes On […]

  • bekindrewrite

    Gah! This makes me want to cry. As if they really existed, and were lost, and now there’s only a few of us who know just how much was lost. And in a way, that’s true.

    Great series – great reading!

    • jubilare

      :D Success! I am glad I am not alone in feeling that way.

      Thank you!

      • bekindrewrite

        Do we not secretly wonder if our favorite stories – even some of the ones we write ourselves – are actually true? That somewhere, some time, those people really existed? Sometimes if feels like I’m just looking through a window, rather than making things up. That’s one of the reasons I love the Inkheart trilogy – it explores many of those questions. And reassures me that if I’m crazy, at least I’m not alone.

        • jubilare

          Oh, always. The stories that really speak to me are the ones I feel have an existence all their own.
          I know exactly what you mean by “looking through a window.” That is how I feel, and how I felt even before I started writing. There is a world that I am looking into, and it’s my job to polish that window and catch the right angle for the story to unfold. The line between creation and discovery is invisible. I also feel like a guardian over that world, as if I have a sacred trust both to represent it truthfully and to choose wisely what to share of what I see and know. I thought I was crazy until I started talking to other authors and realized that, while methods and perspectives vary, this feeling that one is discovering something real is common.
          If we are insane, we are insane together. ;)

          Of course, this goes along with being nightsticked by characters. Ouch.

  • Liss

    I was recently quite disappointed in The Hobbit when I finally got a chance to see it, mostly because with only one or two exceptions, the dwarves were a forgettable collection of D&D characters. I found Bombur the walking fat joke particularly cringeworthy, and as for making Thorin some squeaky-clean noble hero who never gets peevish or trips on the welcome mat … bah!

    Thorin was my favourite character in The Hobbit, once upon a time :( I still liked the movie well enough, but it was hardly breaking any ground.

    I agree with you wholeheartedly on the ‘thick dwarf’ counterargument. Also, whoever first decided that Dwarves Must Always Be Pseudoscottish (I think it was Salvatore and his transliterations for Bruenor) needs to be bludgeoned to death. Which is fine because Salvatore was already due a bludgeoning-to-death for drow alone, really.

    Thank you for a wonderful, thought-provoking read tonight! You’ve reminded me all over again how much I love dwarves. I really do need to go back to The Silmarillion soon …

    • jubilare

      I think they did an ok job with the Dwarves, considering. You are right, Thorin is a very different character, though. I didn’t see him as squeaky-clean. He is certainly prideful, resentful and has anger issues, but he is definitely different. Balin was my favorite in the books, and so far he hasn’t been quite what I hoped for. I could expound a lot on my thoughts on the Dwarves, but I haven’t the time at present. If I find time, I will return to this. I am impressed that you read all these posts at once!

      I have no idea where the pseudoscotirish comes from, but it sure ain’t Tolkien!

      Mission accomplished. :)

  • I Love Dwarves: a recap | jubilare

    […] Of the Free Peoples of Arda Contrariwise Khazâd Part I: Aulë Khazâd Part II: The Deep Places of the World Khazâd Part III: Creation Khazâd Part IV: The Road Goes On […]

  • Urania

    This was a very thoughtful blog series; thank you for sharing your thoughts!

    When I read the bit on dwarves in Appendix A, I also thought the detail was touching about the steadfastness of their love for one another, regardless of whether such love was requited. In this, the dwarves do quite resemble the elves. I’ve always thought that Tolkien’s views of love and romance are beautiful, both in the individual stories he tells, and the attitudes and practices of his fictional races. He acknowledges the beauty and worth of both romance and eros (the latter is somewhat veiled, but certainly present in his work), and yet transforms those more temporary joys into something eternal.

    • jubilare

      Tolkien was a very romantic-hearted bookworm, I think. He and his wife, at first, had something of the star-crossed lovers vibe, but eventually they won through, and he apparently referred to her as his “Luthien,” and the names “Beren” and “Luthien” are enscribed on their graves. X3

      “The leaves were long, the grass was green,
      The hemlock-umbels tall and fair,
      And in the glade a light was seen
      Of stars in shadow shimmering.
      Tinuviel was dancing there
      To music of a pipe unseen,
      And light of stars was in her hair,
      And in her raiment glimmering.”

  • Urania

    Oh, and I meant to draw your attention to a blog I found called the Dwarrow Scholar here on WordPress. It’s a blog dedicated to the neo-Khuzdul used in the LotR/Hobbit films, as well as dwarvish culture and lore. Some of the cultural discussions are rather more speculative than factual, given the dearth of material to draw from in Tolkien’s writings. But it’s fun to consider anyway.

    The blog also provides some neo-Khuzdul dictionaries, and much to my delight, a neo-Khuzdul translation of Ed Sheeran’s lyrics for “I See Fire” (I love his music).

  • stephencwinter

    You are so right about stereotyping! There was much I liked in Peter Jackson’s films of LOTR but I am sad if it is the only way in which people access the great story. Still, my guess is that there have always been popular versions of the great stories and that the Arthurian legend got the same treatment, for example.
    I did not know the reference to the way Dwarf women take their men. It is wonderful. I am struck by the secrecy of the women. Do we ever meet any in Tolkien’s work? Jackson makes a joke of that, of course. In our extrovert culture we do not respect inwardness. I suspect that Dwarf women are true contemplatives.

    • jubilare

      True, true. And people seem to gravitate towards oversimplification. Reality is challenging. I’m glad Tolkien took up the challenge of creating a complex world instead of a simplistic one.
      We know the name of only one Dwarf woman, Thorin’s sister, Dís, the mother of Fili and Kili. From what I understand, Dwarf women rarely travel, but when they do, they go disguised as Dwarf men and therefore pass unrecognized. Also, there is indication that they also have beards. :)

      • stephencwinter

        That has to be the fruit of giving a lifetime to his own sub-creation and also due to his own wisdom. As to Jackson I would have said that he could have taken much more time to tell the story of LOTR and the crowds would still have flocked to the cinema. Sadly when he did take time over The Hobbit he filled it with special effects and lots of action sequences. Still I must not complain too much. There was much in the films of LOTR that I appreciated.
        Thank you for the information on Dwarf women. Do you have a reference to the beards?

        • jubilare

          Yeah… I don’t think Jackson and his team understood what The Hobbit is, or appreciated it… so they tried to turn it into another LotR, and in so doing, created fanfiction. :P

          I think it’s in the Silmarillion, but I’ll have to check.

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